Happiness Is Positive Cash Flow!

“Cash flow, not profits, is the lifeblood of your business. Project it, monitor it, and manage it well before serious trouble starts to brew.”

In today’s uncertain economy with ever rising interest rates, many small businesses with limited financial training are having problems staying alive, let alone prospering. In fact, 63% of new businesses don’t survive six years– and most work-at-home people fail within 6 months!

The primary reason is bad cash management. Too many self-employed people neglect their cash flow until it is too late to recover. So the big question is: How will you manage your cash flow effectively? If you are not sure, then you are on shaky ground.

Let’s break down these tips one at a time.

Fast Collection

In your business, you should collect money as fast as you can. To do so, try these four things:

• Try to speed up customer orders by having them e-mail their orders to you straight from your website.
• Send out your invoices the same day goods are shipped, not a week or two later.
• Indicate on your invoice when payment is due, and specify the penalty interest for late payment. Enforce late fees.

Deposit Money Fast!

This seems only obvious, but it’s extremely important.

Always deposit checks the same day they are received. Don’t hold checks until the next day because you lose one day’s float. Key point: you can lose three days of float by not depositing Friday’s checks until Monday.

• Compare pricing for merchant credit card services; run credit cards as soon as payment due.
• Obtain availability of 0 to 2 days on deposited checks. Don’t let your bank give you the customer availability of 1 to 5 days. Be persistent. Ask the bank for its “availability schedule” and scan it to be sure you’re receiving fast availability of two days or less.
• Each bank has its own availability schedule. This is used to assign check availability to consumers, business (commercial accounts), and large corporate accounts. Availability is the number of days until you can use the money deposited by check as cash. For example, a $1,000 check deposited today and assigned a one-day availability can be withdrawn as cash tomorrow.
• Don’t deposit checks in a bank’s Automated Teller Machine or use the Night Depository since you have no evidence that you actually deposited the checks you said you did. Remember, you only receive a receipt that shows the time and dollar amount on the deposit at the ATM, and you get no receipt at the Night Depositor.
• Ask your bank about its deadline for receiving availability on deposited checks. Some banks may require a deposit of an encoded check by 2 p.m., even though the bank is open to 5 p.m. Make sure you make this deadline, otherwise you lose one day’s float.
• Before using a bank’s ATM for check deposits, find out the bank’s availability deadline. Some banks have a 12 noon cut-off time which means that any checks deposited later are considered to be deposited the next day! In that case, you lose an entire day’s float, even though you did your bit to get the checks cashed.

Have a Super Tight Accounts Receivable Policy

Many people think it is no big deal to neglect accounts receivable until bills are collectible. This is bad cash flow policy. Here are seven excellent tips for handling accounts receivable:

• Check the financial health of a new customer before offering them credit. One way of doing this is by using a rating service, such as Dun & Bradstreet (1-800-234-3867).
• Ask a new customer for five business references and don’t neglect to call them.
• Don’t offer too generous discounts, such as 3% for payment in 10 days. A better rate is 1.5% cash discount. It costs you less.
• Charge a “late fee” of 2% per month to customers who pay late and charge back customers who take discounts after the discount periods.
• Follow up on late payers with phone calls and letters. These may seem a bit extreme, but the first letter should go out the very day the amount is one day late! After 30 days late, start this sequence:
     o send out a letter from your attorney
     o turn over the account to a collection agency
     o use a collection attorney
• Don’t send out new merchandise if bills remain unpaid. Remember that bad debts hurt your bottom line! Be vigilant and try to get at least periodic payments from slow payers.
• Instruct your bank to automatically deposit “returned checks.” Ask your bank if they offer Return Item box service. If they do, then use it to redeposit your check and charge back the bank return item free to your customer.

These seven steps are tough and unrelenting, but they may make the difference between a positive cash flow month and a sluggish month for your business.

Disburse Your Money Slowly

Just the opposite of collecting at the earliest possible moment, you should never pay a day sooner than you have to, unless you get a discount for doing so. A lot of people believe in staying ahead of bills and paying them as early as possible, but that’s just poor cash management. You want to keep your money in your hands as long as you can. Here are five suggestions to slow down your disbursements:

• Pay your invoices on the last day they’re due, not before.
• Try to mail your payment on Thursday or Friday to pick up a few extra days mail float over the weekend.
• Use business credit cards for travel, lodging, meals, and small expenses for yourself and your employees. With credit cards you typically don’t have to make payment until 25 days after receiving the statement. Use this float by investing the money. In total, you can typically keep your money invested for 45 days from date of purchase.
• Don’t issue advances to employees. Have them use their personal credit cards or business cards, if you provide them.
• Now, many small businesses neglect to reconcile their monthly bank statements or assume that the bank never makes a mistake. Banks do make mistakes, and you must stay on top of your disbursement to control your cash flow. If you are one of those people who simply can’t stand to balance you check book, you can use a bank’s standard account reconcilement services for a low monthly price — $50 to $100 base charge and 5 to 7 cents a check.

No Extra Money in Your Bank Account

Many businesses make the mistake of keeping too much money in their bank accounts to pay for bank services. This money could be used more effectively elsewhere — such as to pay off a loan or to invest at a more competitive rate. Many businesses have no idea how much money to leave in the bank or what alternatives they have to compensate the bank. Take some time to find out what your minimum balance needs to be.

Get an Account Analysis Statement

How do you know how much money (bankers refer to this as “balances”) to leave in your checking account to pay for bank’s services? That’s a question that more business owners should be asking themselves.

• First, get a price list which shows how much your bank charges for services like account maintenance, checks deposited, checks paid, stop payments and wire transfers.
• Ask the bank to send you a monthly “Account Analysis Statement.” The analysis statement contains the average balance levels for the month — both the ledger and the available balance — as well as a listing of services used, their transaction volumes and cost. This statement should be obtained in addition to the regular monthly bank statement.
• Look at the account analysis to see whether you are overcompensating the bank. Then pull out any excess funds and invest them in a high-yielding money market mutual fund, for example.

A word of advice: Smaller banks may not know what you are talking about when you ask for an account analysis. Larger banks often offer such a statement, but you have to ask for it. And don’t let them charge you for this kind of statement since it is only an invoice.

Inventory is Not Cash

Every item you have sitting on your shelf should eventually be transformed into cash in your bank account, and the sooner the better. As long as it’s inventory, it’s basically dead weight. If it is not moving, you’re not having cash flow.

Here are six recommendations to minimize the cost of your inventory:

• Attempt to forecast as accurately as you can the day, week and month what you expect to sell. There is software for this.
• If you are dealing in more than one item, determine which item accounts for 80% of your sales. Then minimize ordering other items that are selling poorly or infrequently.
• Determine how fast you can get inventory, once you order it. Try to order as late as you can. Some firms can use “just-in-time” inventory which enables them to receive their order the day they need it.
• Determine your economic order quantity and don’t order too much inventory just to save a few pennies.
• Shop around and make sure you are getting competitive prices.
• Develop a policy for determining obsolete inventory, and how you can get rid of it. The best way to get rid of dead inventory is to sell it whatever you can get for it, even if that’s only 10 percent of what you paid for it. At least it will generate cash flow.

Don’t Forget Continuity Sales

Once of the most exceptional ways of controlling and improving cash flow well into the future is by employing something called continuity of sales or services.

Continuity sales are simply a contract to purchase products or services on an installment basis for a fixed period of time.

The best example of a continuity sale is a magazine subscription. 12, 24, or 36 issues delivered each month for X amount of dollars. The bigger the subscription, they better deal you get. The publisher gets more money up front, and the customer gets a better deal in the long run. Continuity can apply to anything.

Let’s say you own a dry cleaning business. How about an annual deal to clean 5 shirts or blouses per week for set amount of money? Get people to pay your for the entire week up front for a lot of fast cash flow. You’ll trade a discount for getting business, but you’ll ensure a steady cash flow for months to come. Continuity works with just about any kind of product or service you are offering, from dry cleaning to our personal consulting service.

You can structure payments for continuity sales on almost any basis, but it’s best by far to go for complete payment up front. After all, the discount is based on a customer’s commitment, and they’ll be a lot more committed with their money on the line.

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